3 Ways To Keep Email Thriving Post COVID

After 15 months of wrenching disruption, a return to normalcy is in sight. As B2B marketers, now’s a great time to reflect on how we ensure that email, which remains central to all things demand gen – early demand, account-based marketing (ABM), nurtures, and more  – continues to evolve and grow.

Here are three ways we can do that.

Double Down on Performance Metrics, Testing

Email has a rich history of providing metrics ranging from deliverability to usage to post-click engagement; depth of data is a key factor in its long-term strength. The digital information overload that began with and continues post-Covid requires that we raise our analytics and testing to new levels to ensure we are reaching customers and prospects and engaging them effectively.

Consider this data point: the average time spent reading an email message was just 11.82 seconds in 2020, down from 13.4 seconds in 2018, according to Litmus’ 2020 State of Email Engagement report. Precious little reading time mandates that you mine every possible insight in creating and optimizing emails to ensure those 12 seconds are as impactful as they can possibly be—or that you can be one of the winners that gets more than 12 seconds’ time.

The email metrics focus in the immediate term should be less on the mechanics (think deliverability) of the email send and more on the recipient’s interaction with the message from the time it’s received until any action is taken. Of course there’s a need to look at the core metrics of open, click through, bounce and unsubscribe, but there’s even more valuable insight available if you invest the time and resources:

  • Where in the message that visitors clicked
  • How images impacted engagement
  • What follow-on actions, if any, did recipients take post open and click (think conversions and revenue by email message or source)
  • Did they share your message? Did those who received the share sign up for your emails?
  • How did different categories of email (welcome, nurture, special offer) perform and how does that compare with historical performance for each type?

Deep metrics analysis is equally important when running drip campaigns because data can guide adjustments in preset emails as the campaign unfolds.

Any discussion of metrics in the year to come must also include a focus on testing. The beauty of email tests is that they can be as simple as taking your list, splitting it, and sending the same message with two different subject lines, then measuring open, click and other metrics side by side. The insight that such tests provide will be invaluable in your fight for attention and engagement in the year to come.

There are more sophisticated tests including different content presentations, different designs and templates, different colors, and more. The most important point is to have a regular cadence of tests to inform every email you send. This will ensure that not a single email is “wasted” in the sense of not being optimized. Our post-Covid success is riding on this level of diligence.

Old School Can Still Be Cool

Many B2B marketers work in large companies with significant design budgets, so it’s easy to get excited about the cool, trendy, or pretty emails that our designers can create. And with good reason: a nice design can grab the recipient’s attention, draw their eye to the main element you want them to focus on, prompt action, and more.

Still, it’s useful to think about lessons learned over time, and the performance benefits of long-used approaches to see what we can learn, apply, and possibly even put back into use. One such example is plain-text emails. Consider that plain text is spam-filter friendly and doesn’t consume a lot of network or inbox resources. Also, many email clients will block images by default and require the email user to accept and display the images.

We should take measures to ensure our plain-text email versions are optimized because some percentage of our recipients a) receive them that way or b) choose to receive them that way.

Let’s keep a few practices in mind:

  • Build for scannability, including clear titles, good spacing and clear, easily clickable calls to action
  • Test/review rigorously to ensure removal of those incredibly annoying ASCII character streams that hurt the eyes and scream lack of attention to detail.
  • Stick to good old-fashioned copy editing, on a line-by-line basis, to ensure text reads well and presents a clear narrative or story, because text is all the recipient is going to see.

Stay Agile To Survive and Thrive

Our recent State of Demand Gen 2021 report posited that lead quality is the single most important demand-gen consideration in 2021, but it also highlighted ABM’s role as one of the more effective tactics to deliver on that goal.

I maintain that e-mail is the single most effective means of capturing quality leads. It’s the best-in-class channel for accurate, granular targeting that is core to ABM campaigns. While other approaches (inbound, advertising, direct mail, phone) all offer strengths in this area, you can’t leverage any of them to target an entire list of accounts —and individuals within those accounts—in a single communication that lands in their inbox.

Mature email systems can perform that targeting while also personalizing messages with recipient names, targeted content, and more, at scale. No other channel has that sophistication.

One key to building on this powerful base of functionality and results, post-Covid, is to bring the agile marketing practices that served us so well last year to bear on our email marketing strategy and operations. The agile requirement grows even more urgent since we learned that plans need to stay flexible enough to change in short order. Think of agile email as supporting iterative change in a test-and-learn environment.

Using modular email architectures can reduce the time to build an email by more than 25%. Time is of the essence, and approaches that support that model are a welcome addition.

It’s now a given that marketing orgs must stay agile to survive. That same agile mindset, and the related practices, must extend to email as a core channel in delivering on B2B marketers’ top demand-gen priorities.

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